I'm not really sure where I fit in to modern Britain. I am a single parent raising my three children on benefits, which clearly, according to politicians of all colours, the media and an ever-growing percentage of the general population, makes me a scrounger, a shirker, irresponsible, the undeserving poor. I am also the parent of a child with an autistic spectrum disorder, a hotly contested condition that many people feel is "dreamed up" to excuse "bad behaviour" and "poor parenting". I also suffer with depression, another contested condition, with many people believing that I should just "snap out of it" or "pull myself together".
My son is disabled, but not disabled enough for us to receive any support. I am his carer but I don't feel like a "proper" carer because his is an invisible disability and his need for me to care for him more than another child of a similar age is due to his challenging behaviour more often than meeting his physical needs.
I am ill, but I'm not "properly" ill because I don't need hospital appointments, crutches or a wheelchair. My illness is, quite literally, all in my head. Yes, it is occasionally debilitating and some days I struggle to leave the house and any interaction with people other than my loved ones is either impossible or a massive strain on me. Okay, I cannot wear contact lenses because I cry so often and sleep so little that my eyes are almost permanently sore. Despite all that, and other things that I cannot voice even here, I feel I am weak, a failure, pathetic and that I should just be able to cope.
It is Carers Week in the UK and compared to many people coping with disability and illness I am a lightweight and I often feel a fraud for counting myself among some of the amazing people coping with difficulties far beyond what my children and I face on a day to day basis. Some days I don't know what I'm not coping with, my son's ASD or my own mental state. Then I start to doubt whether I am right to keep trying to get more support for him, maybe I am wrong and I should be coping with his needs. Maybe it's not his disability that is the problem. Maybe it's me.
Yes, I am my son's carer but it's not caring as you might see it. It's caring with a difference.